A consensus emerged Monday at the DeLand Community Redevelopment Agency meeting, with strong support for extending the Downtown DeLand mystique to the Spring Hill gateway of Voorhis Avenue.
In February, the CRA invited DeLandites to share their opinions inan online survey about how to spend $600,000 that has accumulated in the CRA fund. Of the available options, the Voorhis Avenue streetscaping project was the most popular in the online survey, and six out of seven CRA members voted to list it as the No. 1 choice.
Below were the options given to survey-respondents for how to spend the CRA’s $600,000 in reserve funds. Projects and their estimated cost, from the most to the least expensive:
Investing in a smart-parking management system for Downtown’s parking spots. ($600,000)
Streetscaping an area of Voorhis Avenue ($500,000)
Rejuvenating the stamped concrete at many of the Downtown intersections ($500,000)
Paving a grass lot off East Rich Avenue for parking ($200,000)
Leveling pavers in Downtown sidewalks ($100,000 to $150,000)
Renovating Sunflower and Painters Pond parks ($65,000)
Replacing a cork directory board in Pioneer Park with an interactive digital directory ($30,000)
Survey respondents’ preference for the project carried over to the meeting the evening of March 15.
Speakers in support included Greater Union Life Center Executive Director Mario Davis and former state Rep. and former County Council Member Joyce Cusack.
“You see, for many years, it was not very popular for folk of color to be in the Downtown area of business,” Cusack told the CRA board during a public comment period. “We are finally going to bridge the gap, and become a city and a CRA that supports all of the CRA and the Downtown DeLand.”
Voorhis Avenue — once a thriving hub of activity for the Black community — thanks to the presence of institutions like Greater Union First Baptist Church and the James W. Wright Building — has been part of the CRA district but has not benefited from the grants and beautification efforts the rest of the Downtown DeLand area has enjoyed.
DeLandite Joan Carter also spoke in favor of the streetscaping project.
“It’s an opportunity that we have to address some of the substantial issues of change that are taking place, not just in DeLand, but everywhere. It’s high time we took a look at our entire Downtown to figure out how we can be more inclusive about what happens here,” she said. “I think it’s a chance for us to do a really significant thing for the city of DeLand.”
Two other questions on the survey steered the CRA, as well. Respondents were asked whether they would prefer to see the money spent on one large project or multiple smaller projects, as well as whether they would be comfortable with the CRA taking on loans to complete projects.
Sixty-three percent of the respondents said they would like to see multiple smaller projects, Assistant City Manager Michael Grebosz told the CRA, and 55 percent said they were comfortable with the agency taking on debt to better Downtown DeLand.
A Voorhis Avenue streetscape could take many forms with many price tags, Grebosz pointed out. The estimate listed on the survey was $500,000, but that cost is tentative and conservative, Grebosz said.
Nevertheless CRA board members suggested pursuing multiple projects.
The agency advised staff to proceed with the Voorhis Avenue project as the first choice, with the renovation of Sunflower Park and Painter’s Pond on Wisconsin Avenue as second choice and the paving of a parking lot off of East Rich Avenue as the third option.
The ranking was approved 6-1, with City Commissioner Kevin Reid casting the dissenting vote. While he supports the Voorhis Avenue project, Reid said, there is too much uncertainty to direct staff on the project right now.
Grebosz told the agency city staff members will firm up the options and return to the CRA board with firmer price tags.